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The Chief Rabbi and My Confession

cosmopolitan-hotel-confessions-3I had a major epiphany this morning that warrants a confession (one of the writing prompts I skipped) and an apology (probably a prompt I never saw.)

In keeping with my interfaith bridge building work, I posted a YouTube video on Facebook last night that I thought would resonate with my Facebook friends. It was a gentle, uplifting presentation by Rabbi Jonathan Sacks, scholar, author, renowned spiritual leader, and former Chief Rabbi of England. (His official title was Chief Rabbi of the United Hebrew Congregations of the Commonwealth.) I don’t agree with Rabbi Sacks on all matters Jewish, but, even where we part company, Rabbi’s Sacks knowledge and impact on the modern Jewish world are undeniable.

I was delighted, then, when I came across a short clip of Rabbi Sacks touting interfaith understanding and peace building between Jews, Christians, and Muslims. I’d read some of his writings on the subject, but I’d never found anything as accessible as this video. I eagerly posted the link on my Facebook page.

Take a minute now—truthfully 3 minutes—to hear Rabbi Sacks talk on interfaith relations.

Did you catch it?

Neither did I.

If you’re not active in the interfaith world, you may not have noticed Rabbi Sacks’ omission. If you’re like me and you’re involved in interfaith work, it should have jumped out at you.

But I missed it.

Early in the video clip, at 0:25, Rabbi Sacks says, “…more than half of the world’s population claim their descent, literal or metaphorical, from Abraham and Sarah.”

Catch it now? Rabbi Sacks errs in his description of the Abrahamic family tree.

Jews and Christians trace their ancestry from Abraham and Sarah. Muslims trace their ancestry from Abraham and HAGAR.

OMG. Perhaps there’s an explanation somewhere on the Internet where Rabbi Sacks corrects this error. Perhaps not.

But it is my error that shocks me. It wasn’t until a Facebook friend pointed out the omission in Rabbi’s Sack’s statement that I realized his mistake and, by extension, my error in sharing the video.

But that’s not my confession. Nor my apology.

Last summer, I attended an interfaith iftar at a neighborhood synagogue. An iftar is a gathering for the breaking of the day-long fast for Muslims during the month of Ramadan. A local Islamic group offered to host a community-wide event at a local temple. More than 200 people came—many Jews, some Christians, and many Muslims who wanted to share their tradition and their meal with others.

In his opening remarks, the rabbi of the congregation welcomed guests, proclaiming our three-faith unity under the tent of Abraham. Using virtually the same words Rabbi Sacks used in the video, the rabbi of the synagogue proudly celebrated our common ancestry: “Abraham and Sarah.”

What? I waited for the inclusion of Hagar, but again our Muslim brothers and sisters were shut out.

I was mortified. Most of the Muslims in the room were my friends. I spent the rest of the evening table-hopping and expressing regret on behalf of all-Jews-everywhere for the rabbi’s faux pas. My friends were gracious in overlooking the rabbi’s remarks. They were also good natured in accepting my apology, which they said wasn’t necessary. Some had not even noticed the rabbi’s misstep.

I was not as gracious. I was irate and more than a little embarrassed by the rabbi’s remarks. I even went so far as to write to another rabbi from the community suggesting he point out the error of his colleague’s ways.

Which brings me, at last, to my need to confess and apologize after last night’s Facebook blunder.

To the Rabbi Who Hosted the Iftar: I apologize for my bad manners. Everyone makes mistakes.You made a mistake that evening. Rabbi Sacks made a mistake in his video. And I made a mistake in not catching the omission. We’re human. Human beings make mistakes.

Worse, though, I was judgmental. I confess I allowed one misstep on your part to color my opinion of you. In the same way people carry prejudices against the Other, I misjudged you based on one experience. I was unkind. Mean-spirited. Hypocritical.

I will do better.

May we someday live in a place where the names of Abraham, Sarah, and Hagar are intrinsically linked and instinctively recognized as members of the same family. And may we be blessed with the spirit of patience, humility, and forgiveness until we arrive at that place.


The Kindness of Strangers

It’s remarkable when it comes together.

Commitment plus passion equals results.

By the time I saw a writing project on Facebook last December, I had already lost the commitment to write. I had lost the passion. Although ideas were still percolating in my head, my blog sat idle. I was indifferent. Unmotivated. Lethargic. (Even in a slump, adjectives are not hard to come by.)

Over a thousand Facebook users responded to this inexplicable challenge called, My 500 Words. Write 500 words, every day, for 30 days. 500 words. Every day.

I am one of those Facebook users who took up the challenge. If you’re a follower of my blog about Jewish-Muslim relations, you’ve seen new posts this week following my six month hiatus. The commitment and passion are back. Remarkably.

Those of us still engaged in this daily writing ritual—it’s hard to know how many have dropped out—are developing content for novels, blogs, plays, and journals.

Anyone can share his or her work on a private Facebook page dedicated to this project. Kudos to those writers who put themselves out there like a dangling piñata.

I’m amazed at the candor and authenticity with which participants tell the most intimate details of their lives. It’s even more astounding that these traumatic experiences are often expressed as inspirational turning points. In turn, these stories become inspirational for the reader. Because I have no context for these stories, the posts often read like fictional narratives. They touch me in the way good literature touches me and makes me feel I’m walking through the door into someone’s home.

As we hit the halfway point of this project, more comments began to appear on Facebook about the writing process itself. Many participants say the writing is getting harder. Some push through the wall. Others feel guilty about missing a day or two. Those writers who chastise themselves for perceived failures use the Facebook group as a cyber-confessional, and then others, in turn, offer compassion and encouragement.

Therein lies the extraordinary part of this endeavor. Writers write and share. Other writers read and comment. An online dialogue ensues, sometimes for 24 or 36 hours as other writers/readers weigh-in on an article or question. Since Facebook is set up to notify commenters when someone joins the conversation, the engagement flows naturally. A response here. A word of encouragement there. A helpful link. A shared moment of frustration. A tiny joke to break the tension.

A community forms.

I don’t personally know Jeff Goins, the impresario behind this initiative, except through Jeff’s weekly blog that I acknowledge I read only sporadically. But Jeff has built something here that I bet even he could not have imagined.

This is not simply a community of writers.

This is a writing community of compassionate strangers.

After more than two weeks of writing, we’re still basically a group of fifteen hundred people who don’t know each other. Every day, as strangers we appear at the FB town center, share our common goal of hitting the 500 word quota, and make ourselves available to each other for a brief time.

This is not bowling alone where adults continue to aim for the ten pins but eschew the camaraderie of the league. This, in fact, is just the opposite of bowling alone.

Writing is an isolated and isolating activity. Yet Goins has defied the odds. He’s created a community, in the best sense of the word, where writers retreat as needed to execute their craft, and then return, as needed, to rejoin a supportive, empathetic network of peers.

Azar Nafisi, author of Reading Lolita in Tehran and one of my favorite writers because she extols the empathetic value of literature, writes, “The reason I am so popular is that I give others back what they need to find in themselves. You need me not because I tell you what I want you to do but because I articulate and justify what you want to do.”

My 500 Words and the artists in this community articulate and justify what I already know I want to do.